The Pacific Voyages
of Rollo Beck
Collection of Oceanic Photographs
are many volumes written about the adventures of early European and American
explorers "discovering" new and far-off lands, such as the islands of the Pacific.
As was often the case, the Western explorers were not discovering the lands
they found but merely visiting the island homes of others. It was not Captain
Cook but the Polynesians, who found and settled the islands of Oceania.
The first inhabitants of the islands of Oceania, are believed to have origins
in South East Asia from where they crossed the Pacific by means of the voyaging
canoe. Although people had reached areas of Western Melanesia as early as 30,000-40,000
years ago, the archaeological records indicate that their canoes did not reach
the islands of Polynesia, further east, until approximately 3,500 years ago.
and Ida Beck
Born in Los Gatos,
California in 1870, Rollo Beck was an ornithologist who spent much of his professional
life traveling throughout the world collecting bird specimens for research institutions.
In 1920, The Whitney Expedition, a zoological project funded privately by Harry
Payne Whitney, sent the Becks to Oceania to collect birds for the American Museum
of Natural History.
The Rollo Beck
Although Beck was
primarily an ornithologist, he and his wife, Ida, took personal interest in Oceanic
cultures. In addition to collecting birds they collected numerous objects of material
culture, that is, objects made and used by the indigenous people who inhabited
the islands. The Department of Anthropology at The California Academy of Sciences
houses nearly two thousand objects collected from areas throughout Oceania. The
Rollo Beck collection alone comprises of nearly five hundred objects as well as
a large collection of ethnographic photographs taken by Beck during his Pacific
expeditions in the 1920's. These photos provide important ethnohistoric documentation
from the time before tourism when missionaries and merchants were among the few
"foreigners" living among the peoples of Oceania. Beck's photos show
many of the objects found in our collection either in use or in the manufacturing
The Web Page
The following pages
trace Rollo Beck's travels and the Whitney Expedition from an anthropological
view point. Pictured are objects, collected by the expedition which are now housed
in our anthropology collection, juxtaposed with the photography of Rollo Beck.
Beck's Oceanic Journey